This is the last cookbook you will ever need buy. Of course, if you’re like me with cookbooks, you’ll still want to buy more, but this really is the cookbook to end all cookbooks.
Why? Because it takes every ingredient you could want, and tells you exactly what other ingredients it goes with, gives you a little history of the flavour-pairing, and then suggests ways to combine them in recipes. So those extra artichokes you don’t know what to do with? Have a look in here and Niki Segnit will tell you. And chances are you already have things in the cupboard to pair with them and make a delicious dish.
She has taken 99 basic flavours and paired them into 980 combinations. She has also categorised them into families of flavourings, e.g. herbal, citrus, earthy.
It is more than a cookbook though – it is a culinary labour of love that will entertain and delight you. It is the only “cookbook” I’ve ever come across which I also happily read on my commute. It is a gastronomic trip through the art of cooking throughout the ages, seen through one woman’s life.
Niki writes the way I think about food. Take her entry on the combination of nutmeg and apple:
I love using nutmeg, partly because of the dinky grater. Also because it’s simultaneously rich and fresh, and wonderful for perking up warm apple purée. Grate a light dusting over it and serve with vanilla ice cream. Like falling in love in the autumn.
I love the dinky grater too!
It is a food memoir that enchants and, refreshingly for this genre, lacks pretension. In a very eloquent review on Amazon, a fellow fan has put it far better than I could:
The real revelation …is Segnit’s language. It is, quite simply, superb. Modern cookery writing seems to fall into three distinct camps: venomous snob, obsessed with tablecloths and ambience rather than the food itself; faux-geezer dahn the faux-pub; and flirty girl breathlessly enthusing over cake. With `The Flavour Thesaurus’, Segnit may well have ended the careers of many of these over-hyped morons.
Amen to that.
In actual fact, the first copy I bought was for my then-boyfriend, an avid cook and wannabe chef. He was excellent at flavour pairings, but always wished he could know in advance whether things would work, rather than cooking and adding things as he went, sniffing and tasting to see if the combinations would be harmonious. I came across this book on the advice of my clever friend Ben, also a bit of a gastronome, who told me it was something I ought to own. Instead, I generously bought it as a birthday present for my boyfriend. It was an instant hit. He proclaimed it the best present he had ever received, and then disappeared with it into the kitchen for about a week, emerging at meal times with delectable dishes of weird and wonderful compositions.
Alas, though in theory every woman would love a boyfriend who cooks, the reality was a little different. I wasn’t allowed near the kitchen, and given that coming home from work and cooking something nice for supper is one of my favourite ways to unwind at the end of the day, this proved a little annoying. For this, but many other, bigger reasons, we eventually went our separate ways, and he took his Flavour Thesaurus with him. My post-break-up therapy was a shopping trip for my own copy!
Now, at this point I should add a caveat. If you love cooking to a recipe, with precise measurements and instructions, then I am afraid this book is not for you. Instructions are vague, don’t include things like oven temperatures or cooking times, and might end with: “and add anything else you think might work”. An example of one of the more real recipes is below, on the page for sage, my current favourite flavour (tied with beetroot).
This book therefore is not really aimed at those who want to learn to cook. Instead the intended readership are those who are confident in their culinary abilities but want to expand their repertoire and explore new taste sensations.
It is also very different from every other cookbook on the market at the moment, where inevitably one page for every spread is taken with huge glossy photographs of the resulting dishes. Indeed, there is no ‘food porn’ in this book at all. It is bereft of even a single image, but certainly not to its detriment.
In short – if you know someone who loves to cook, buy them this and give them the gift of a gastronomic lifetime.
And – to recommend one of my other favourite possessions – if they also struggle to keep cookbooks open whilst cooking, but don’t want one of those enormous cast-iron cookbook stands you often see which take up far too much room and inevitably only suit the décor of the most rustic, country cottages, buy them a bookholder as well. Mine is the MightyBright Fold n’Stow, though I am sure there are other similar ones for sale.
I bought it to hold up fat law textbooks whilst working on my PhD, and I now own at least three. They fold flat and take up no room at all, and hold the heaviest of books open at your page. They are perfect for slotting away amongst your cookery books on their shelf, and getting out when you need, taking up no precious space in your kitchen. I wish I could have come up with this genius item!
Do you have a favourite cookbook which is a little different from the norm? Have you tried the Flavour Thesaurus? What did you think?